Although Arizona State produced more bright spots than it did during last weekend’s sweep at the hands of Oregon State, the Sun Devils (10-12, 1-5 in Pac-12) again lost a conference series, this time falling in two of three contests to USC (14-8, 4-2 in Pac-12).
Friday: USC 5, Arizona State 4 (11 innings)
Issues that have plagued the Sun Devils throughout the season once again rose to the forefront in the first game of their weekend series.
Errors have held the Sun Devils back all spring, and on Friday, a miscue by senior Jackson Willeford ended up leading to ASU’s defeat.
ASU never led but still forced extra innings before Willeford’s error did the Sun Devils in.
Freshman Carter Aldrete hit a pivotal game-tying single in the eighth inning that was the last score prior to USC’s walk-off, marking the second baseman’s second RBI of the game.
Junior Andrew Shaps also stood out offensively, collecting three hits, including an RBI single. Shaps is now hitting over .300 after a slow start to the season.
Though Willeford’s error wound up costing the Sun Devils, a rough outing from junior starting pitcher Eli Lingos also hindered ASU’s chances. After a strong start to the season, the left-hander is trending down after surrendering eight hits and four runs over five innings of work on Friday. In his last three outings, Lingos has allowed 11 runs in 19 innings.
The past few weekends almost certainly won’t take Lingos out of the rotation, but with Pac-12 play in full swing, the Sun Devils will need the version of the left-hander that allowed two earned runs in his first three starts to go toe-to-toe with the conference’s aces on Friday nights.
ASU’s bullpen, which has had its fair share of ups and downs this year, did make up for Lingos’ struggles. Three relievers combined to pitch 5 and 2/3 innings, and none of them were charged with any earned runs. Sophomore Connor Higgins was assessed the loss, but it was not a reflection of his pitching, as the run he allowed came on Willeford’s error.
Junior Jake Godfrey did most of the heavy lifting, striking out three hitters in 3 and 2/3 innings. The right-hander continues to fill the role of long reliever in ASU’s bullpen.
Saturday: Arizona State 7, USC 0
Head coach Tracy Smith has been looking all season for a third starter to pair in the rotation with Lingos and freshman Spencer Van Scoyoc and on Saturday, he may have finally found one in freshman Chaz Montoya.
The left-hander, who had previously worked exclusively out of the bullpen, dominated the Trojans, allowing only two hits and two walks in 5 and 2/3 innings.
Montoya had been a prominent figure in the late innings of games and figured to be someone who would be a mainstay as either a setup man or closer. However, he showed he could be stretched out, allowing Smith some flexibility regarding his usage in future weekends.
Senior Eder Erives, who occupied the swingman role last season, pitched the remaining 3 and 1/3 innings, striking out six hitters. Erives had struggled with his command since returning from injury, so the fact that he did not surrender a walk was a positive sign for his development.
Offensively, singles dominated the production for ASU’s offense as Shaps’ double was the lone extra-base hit.
Sophomore Tyler Williams drove in three runs in his first start of the series, and freshman Lyle Lin continued his torrid pace with two hits, raising his batting average to .358.
Despite the strong showing from all nine hitters in the lineup, it was Montoya who stole the show. Expect him to stick around in the rotation next weekend.
Sunday: USC 7, Arizona State 4
One bad inning doomed the Sun Devils on Sunday, leading to the program’s second consecutive series loss to open Pac-12 play.
Heading into the bottom of the fourth, the game was tied at two before the Trojans opened the floodgates with four runs off of redshirt sophomore Reagan Todd. Sophomore Lars Nootbaar delivered the big hit with a single that scored three runs.
Todd had replaced Van Scoyoc, who once again ran into some control issues after he was pushed back a day in the rotation. Van Scoyoc walked two hitters and threw a wild pitch that led to a run.
ASU wasn’t able to accumulate the same amount of damage in any inning that the Trojans were, scoring just one run in four different frames. Lin and freshman Hunter Bishop led the way for the Sun Devils’ offense with two hits apiece.
While the start to conference play is not ideal for the Sun Devils, they currently sport the same record, 1-5, that they had at this point last season. ASU finished 16-14 in 2016 and still made the NCAA tournament, but the Sun Devils will need another turnaround this season to repeat that feat.
What’s Next?: ASU will play its first mid-week game since March 8, when it hosts UNLV. The home stand will reach four games over the weekend when UCLA makes the pilgrimage to Phoenix Municipal Stadium.